La’Shanda Holmes is seen at Air Station Los Angeles, in 2010.

Adam Eggers/U.S. Coast Guard

In 2010, Holmes graduated flight school, becoming the first Black woman helicopter pilot for the Coast Guard and the military branch’s second Black woman pilot.

Jeanine Menze fell in love with airplanes as a little girl in Jamaica, watching them take off and land at the local airport.

At 18, she set out to register for her first flight lesson at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

But she got discouraged when she saw that the people lining up for aeronautical science classes were mostly white and male.

“I panicked,” she said in a StoryCorps conversation last month. “I don’t see anyone that looks like me, and I felt like I didn’t belong.”

She tried her hand at coding — there were a few women in that line. But, a year later, she knew she wasn’t where she was meant to be, and registered for an introductory flight lesson at an airport down the street. Seeing a woman flight instructor there boosted her confidence.

There, she said, she took off at the controls of a Cessna Skyhawk and flew over the Everglades.

“I was hooked,” Menze said.

In 2005, Menze was awarded her Wings of Gold, signifying her graduation from advanced flight training and became the first Black woman aviator in the U.S. Coast Guard.

But, once again, she felt out of place. Then, two years later, La’Shanda Holmes came along.

“It was so long that I’d been in the Coast Guard already being the only Black female,” Menze told Holmes. “I wanted a partner. I wanted somebody else there. So, when I met you, I saw myself.”

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